We don’t often hear about assertiveness. When your campus career centre talks about soft skills, they usually mean networking. And it’s rare to see “must be assertive” on a job posting. That’s because assertiveness doesn’t necessarily benefit your employer. Instead, assertiveness benefits you. When you’re assertive, you use your communication skills to get what you need and deserve.
Most people think “assertive” means “aggressive.” But that’s not the case. To find out more about assertiveness, we spoke with Ashima Suri, director and co-founder of Building Bridges Association of Canada, a company that organizes career-related projects and events to promote inclusion in the workforce. Suri teaches workshops on assertiveness training, and she describes it like this: “By being assertive, you hold yourself with confidence and integrity. You respect the other person’s opinions. You’re honest. You’re direct. It’s a very different way of communicating.”
If you ever feel guilty saying “no” to people or just don’t bring up issues for fear of being noticed, you’ll probably benefit from some assertiveness. This is especially true if you need accommodations to do your job. “If you go into an office, there will be a computer and chair,” Suri says. “That’s a form of accommodation. What if that wasn’t there? Would you be able to do your work?”
Probably not. Suri recommends to assert your needs, even before the interview. “That comes from knowing yourself, trusting yourself, and having the confidence to say, ‘Well, I’m coming by wheel-trans, so I might be late.’ Or if the employer is requesting a test in the interview, being able to communicate the need for large print or specific software.”
Assertive communication training covers different communication strategies for stating your needs with confidence. (A few techniques are noted below.) As young people entering the workforce, we often feel glad just to have a job, given the economy. But that doesn’t give other people the right to deny you reasonable accommodations or professional respect. Be assertive. Be positive. And be strong.
Jobpostings’ top five assertiveness tips:
Use “I” statements to voice your personal point of view without expressing a judgment against someone else or blaming them for your feelings.
Be honest and upfront about something you feel the listener may not fully be aware of or understand. It helps frame the conversation and makes you more in control of it.
When someone criticizes you, try to find some part of the critique to agree with (if not all of it). By doing this, you transform the critique into feedback that diffuses the verbal attack and supports your assertiveness.
The broken record
When dealing with a situation where you’re being prodded to agree to some argument or sales pitch, a technique that might help is to state clearly what you don’t want (or want) and when you meet with resistance repeat again and again until the matter is resolved.
Maintain eye contact. Stand upright or sit up straight. Don’t cross your arms or legs. Doing these things makes the listener feel like you respect them and are listening to them, and makes you look more confident overall. Also, adjusting your tone of voice to be lower, harder, and slower will make you sound more confident.